How Retailers Are Easily Tracking Your Smartphones as You Shop

Common sense will tell you that coupon apps are tracking you, the NSA is tracking you, Google maps is certainly tracking you, but did you know shops like Nordstrom and American Apparel are also doing the same? It’s called indoor positioning and it’s easier than ever with the help of Apple’s iBeacon and technology like WiFi-triangulation.

In stores with video cameras, footage is used to analyze shoppers, but technology can create a whole pattern of behavior that would take an individual much longer to calculate. Prior to iBeacon, retailers were studying shoppers behaviors through a wide range of methods from sound waves to magnetic fields. One popular method is Wi-Fi triangulation, where data signals from smartphones coupled with movement can paint a clear image of shopping behavior. Retailers can also use magnetic mapping to find you since your smartphone’s  internal compass creates distortions within a store. Stores can also use LED lights to communicate with your smartphone camera. Then there’s radio beacons, sensor tracking, and so on.

To add to the wide array of positioning technology is the latest from Apple –  iBeacon, Apple’s low-powered Bluetooth-enabled tracker that’s on iPhones, iPad Minis, and any iOS7 devices. It can see where you are, how long you’re there, and what you and your phone is doing. If you’re looking at cereal in a grocery aisle, you might get a push notification for cereals. Shopping for shoes? How about a push notification with an ad for shoes, socks, and other shoe accessories?

Aside from the creepy, constant monitoring and potentially annoying location-specific ads, iBeacon’s Bluetooth signals can help to automate our existence. Since iBeacon works much better than GPS, museums can also use the technology to create walking tours. Let’s say you have a Bluetooth set-up for your living room. When you walk in, the signals can trigger the on switch.

Major League Baseball is already using iBeacon at Citi Field in Queens, NY. Fans in the stadium can unlock coupons when visiting a restaurant with the Met’s digital loyalty cards. When entering the stadium, the app can help fans locate their seats. In a statement to Mashable, Marc Abramson, iOS developer for MLB, explains the goal of the app:

The whole concept is to give the user an individualized experience that is always different. The next time a fan comes to Citi Field, you might not get a prompt to visit the apple because it knows you’ve been there. Instead, it will highlight another area of the stadium.

If you’re concerned that iBeacon is about continuous connectivity, you might be surprised to see that it can also  turn off  your phone, your camera, or even certain websites. In the video below, you can see how iBeacon can actually limit your connections when you’re in a classroom and conference room.

The more you know, right?